Art Place

Interview with Laura Astwood – Ottawa Stilt Union


About the artist: Ottawa Stilt Union

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

As a company we are playful, whimsical and we like to create multi-sensory work that engages us physically and socially.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the arts? 

We all have different reasons for pursuing careers in the arts.  We were initially motivated to start the company to create performances with stilt-walking, which was new to Ottawa and which gives us joy.

What are some recurring themes in your art practice?

Nature/ecology; magical creatures; a-cappella singing; the combination of intimate story-telling and spectacular physical action; whimsy.

What are your most important influences?

Influences are: folk tales and songs from many different cultures of the world; circus; climate change.

What is your experience in art projects engaging social practice?

We had a grant from the City to perform our work La Toilette in underserved communities. That led to our engagement with the Overbrook community where we taught workshops, gave stilt-try-outs, collected stories, and did a six-week project at the Boys and Girls Club.

What did you gain from your experience?

A new perspective about the place of art in society. We heard some really riveting, powerful and inspiring stories. We saw children and adults revel in theatre play, learn new skills and expand their idea of the possible.

How long have you been active in the Ottawa arts community?

Nearly a decade!

What interested you about working with AOE Arts Council?

AOE Arts Council allows us to pursue our goal to become more involved in our community as a company through teaching, sharing knowledge and creating with our participants.


About the project

What made you want to participate in Art Place?

We want to open people’s minds to outlets for meaningful self-expression, and give opportunities to create and perform to those who might not have access to artistic materials, lessons, etc. Art Place helps connect artists to groups/communities who can benefit from such creative stimulus.

 What inspired you to pursue this project with this community?

We originally tried working in Overbrook (Overbrook Community Centre, Boys and Girls Club) but found it difficult to maintain consistency of participation long enough to create something substantial, due in part to the structure of those institutions’ activities and the young age demographic present (mostly under 16). We hope working with the Catholic Centre for Immigrants (CCI) and restructuring our approach will introduce us to an older group (18-25) who will be motivated and focused enough to spend several weeks creating something of substance with us.

How would you describe the project you will be working on?

We will engage the group in creative and skill-based workshops representing our practices as a company (storytelling, stilt walking, acrobatics, song, creating with found materials) over the course of several weeks, and then we will put these skills to use creating an original performance collaboratively with the participants. The nature of the performance will depend on interest and input from the participants.

As an art collective, what do you hope to get out of this process?

We hope for inspiration.  New ideas.  New perspectives.

What do you hope participants will gain from this process?

We hope participants will gain new tools for expression and discovery. We want to empower people to create and express themselves in ways they may not have considered before; to allow them space to tell their stories.

 How do you anticipate this work will have an impact on the community?

We expect participants will discover that theatre and performance can be quite different than what they had imagined; that art can be created with little or no budget or formal training and that they have the tools to tell their stories. We expect them to bring this knowledge back to their families and their communities and to spread the joy of creation.

 How will your project give voice or expression to the social issue(s) you will be exploring?

The social issues we explore will depend on the participants and what they choose to bring to the project. We will help them give voice to these issues by sharing our creative process and offering tangible tools for self-expression.

How will you know your project is a success?

We will know the project is a success if the participants express pride in what they make; if they discover new things; if together we are able to create something larger than the sum of us.  We will know it is a success if theatrical magic happens, which is to say transformation.

More about Ottawa Stilt Union

Thanks for sharing / Merci d’avoir partagé!

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